D-II volleyball final

Vicenza wins rubber match with Naples to take crown

Naples' Audrey Villareal taps the ball across the net as Vicenza's China Gregg defends. Vicenza captured the DODEA-Europe Division II title with a win over the Wildcats. Vicenza beat Naples 17-25, 25-17,25-19, 25-17.


By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 2, 2019

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – All the elements that decide the winner of a volleyball match were in evidence Saturday in the DODEA-Europe Division II girls championship.

Skill was the most obvious aspect displayed repeatedly by both Vicenza and Naples. Discipline was sometimes there and sometimes not. And fortune played a role as well, with the net capriciously deciding which way the ball would drop several times.

But the deciding factor might have been experience. The Wildcats don’t have a senior on the roster. The Cougars are led by four-year standouts Chenoa Gragg and Julia Lombardi. And they also benefited from playing a few more games this season than any other squad. And that’s not counting a handful of scrimmages against Italian clubs.

“We’ve worked so hard,” said Gragg, a 5-foot-11 middle hitter/blocker who dominated stretches of Vicenza’s 17-25, 25-17, 25-19, 25-17 victory. “We hustled, we played together and we communicated.”

It didn’t start out that way, though.

Naples turned a 3-3 tie into an 8-5 advantage in the first set on an ace by Alexia Vancil.  Gragg’s kill brought Vicenza back to 11-10, but that’s as close as the Cougars got.

“The first game, I think was just nerves,” Vicenza coach John Kohut said.

After that, the Cougars slowly gained the momentum, though Naples – the only team to defeat the Cougars during the regular season – grabbed it back a few times.
Naples coach Kristi Hess said her team just didn’t seem to be as ready to play as it needed to be.

“We weren’t reacting, we were weren’t moving, we were just standing on our heels,” Hess said. “And our blocking wasn’t what it usually is.”

Some of that could be attributed to ailing middle blocker Lena Dieryckx, who took the court but wasn’t at her best. But much of that was due to Gragg and Lombardi.

Tied at 6-6 in the decisive fourth set, Lombardi went to work. Two kills and two aces helped the Cougars take a 14-9 advantage. Naples didn’t get closer than five points the rest of the way.

Lombardi, who plays volleyball with an Italian club during the winter and spring DODEA seasons, finished with 18 kills. She was especially dominant in the second set when Vicenza broke away from a 16-16 tie. But several other Cougars had key points during the run, including back-to-back aces from Londyn Wilson, a dink from Oliva Martel and another ace from Madeline Mollner.

Lombardi said scrimmaging against Italian clubs “who have a different style of play,” helped the team adjust against different teams’ strategies.

“We know how to adjust,” she said.

Gragg finished with 12 kills and seven blocks, while Naples’ Audrey Villareal led her team with 11 kills and added a pair of aces.

The third-place contest was also an all-Italian affair, with Aviano downing American Overseas School of Rome 25-20, 25-11, 15-10.


The Vicenza Cougars celebrate after defeating Naples 17-25, 25-17,25-19, 25-17 in the Division II finals at the DODEA-Europe volleyball championships in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.

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